China is about to start commercial operation of their newest high-speed rail line, the Beijing-Shanghai line. TheÂ 1318 km (819 mi) long line is the world’s longest and will feature Chinese-made rolling stock. China Railways’ CRH380A is capable of zippingÂ through at speeds of up to 380 km/h (236 mph), which would make this also the world’s fastest line. The maximum speed isÂ currently at 300km/h (186 mph), but is set to increase to 350km/h in a near future.
The Beijing-Shanghai line alone is comparable (in length) to the entireÂ German HSR network, but is just part of Beijing’s plan to create a networkÂ that will serve 250 cities and span 30,000km (18,600 mi) by 2020. China has invested some $350 billion on the network, whichÂ has now some 5,500km of routes (plus upgraded sections of older railways, which would bring the total to overÂ 8,000km). Operation of the first line began four years ago (2007).
China already has a huge highway network, the second largest in the world and expanding just as fast as the HSR network – so why buildÂ a redundant system? There is a lot of criticism, like high ticket prices. However, what many are overlooking is theÂ potential to keep people from buying and using their cars. Besides carrying passengers, with new high speedÂ railways, freight traffic can also use what were passenger lines, taking trucks off the road. China’s freight transport byÂ rail is still very inefficient if compared to the one in America.
Estimates on car ownership in China vary, but they range from 20 to 120 cars per 1000 people. The US number isÂ around 750. With a population 4x bigger, imagine how disastrous it would be if car ownership in China came anywhereÂ close to American levels. In the U.S., high-speed rail will most likely be a failure with the exception of (perhaps) very few lines because of the extreme reliance on automobiles.
U.S. cities already invest more in their mass transit systems than on their highways, yet they still serve less than 5% of the population.Â Taking people off their cars in the U.S. won’t be easy; it is almost a necessity to own a car in America. China has the chance to stop this from happening by building a better public transportation infrastructure before it is too late. Metros in urban areas and the national HSR network will be important in reducing traffic congestion in China, which is already at alarming levels in many of the larger cities.
High speed trains are faster than cars, more practical than airplanes and more efficient than both. What’s not to like?
WARNING: The origin of the technology behind the CRH380A does not pertain to the discussion and any comments regarding it will be seen as inflammatory and deleted.